Born in a time of political and cultural turmoil for his homeland, Kazuyuki Ohtsu (Japanese, b. 1935) spent his formative years under the shadow of war. From this chaos and struggle, he took refuge in reading, and so began his love of the printed word. This quiet, introspective man would ultimately gain renown for printed images that offer a visual escape and evoke a sense of peace. Author Bob Hicks, in his monograph on the artist (
, Pomegranate 2016), remarked that despite Ohtsu’s real-world experiences and the crush and thrum of life in modern-day Tokyo, the artist has created “a dream Japan.”
The thirteenth child in a family of silk weavers, Ohtsu broke with tradition to study woodblock printmaking. At eighteen he left his home in the Gunma Prefecture to travel some fifty miles to Tokyo, where he began work at Isamu Umehara Print Workshop. Four years later he was invited to become the assistant to Kiyoshi Saito
, a woodblock artist at the forefront of the sōsaku hanga movement. As part of this “creative prints” movement, the artist handled every step of the meticulous, time-consuming production of prints: painting the original pictures, carving the woodblocks, and printing the images.
Ohtsu and Saito worked together for nearly four decades and became devoted collaborators, but their relationship began as master and student, and the prints they produced bore Saito’s name. Later in life Saito encouraged Ohtsu’s artistic independence and paved the way for his solo career. Ohtsu’s own work gently diverged from the style of Saito’s more modernist prints, which Hicks describes as “evocations of reality, but also frankly artificial…. while Ohtsu’s can seem like windows on a transcendental world
.” A number of Ohtsu’s prints capture the beauty of cherry trees
, celebrated in Japanese literature, poetry, and art for hundreds of years. The spring blossoms
are rich in symbolism, with their brief lifespan and fragile beauty often serving as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life.
Ohtsu’s artwork has been exhibited and collected worldwide.
All images © Kazuyuki Ohtsu. Courtesy Castle Fine Arts.